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Hamas choices will shape Middle East future

Hamas choices will shape Middle East future, top UN envoy says

Welcoming the decision of the European Union (EU) to provide emergency assistance to the Palestinian Authority, the United Nations top envoy for Middle East peace said today that the next choices that Hamas makes are the single most important variables in the future of the region.

“This is an unscripted moment,” Alvaro de Soto, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process told the Security Council in his briefing on developments in the region since the Islamist party swept Parliamentary elections in the West Bank and Gaza.

At this moment, he noted, a democratically elected government is in the process of being formed to be led by Hamas, an organization he said was still formally committed to the destruction of Israel, and which had a condemnable record of terrorism.

At the same time Israel was nearing an election in which future policy vis-à-vis the occupied Palestinian territory was a central issue and had already halted the transfer of Palestinian tax payments and tightened the closure regime in Palestinian areas.

While he affirmed that the parties’ choices would largely determine their future at this important juncture, he stressed that the international community also had an important role to play in helping the parties to make wise choices, and in ensuring that it kept sight of the overall goal of achieving a two-state solution by peaceful means.

For that reason, he reminded the Council of the need, as stressed by the diplomatic Quartet made up of the UN, the United States, the EU and Russia to stabilize the finances of the Palestinian Authority during the caretaker period.

Describing a functioning Authority as an essential building block for a Palestinian State, he said it was not something that could be turned on and off like a light switch. It was through the Authority that basic social and economic services, as well as salaries, were provided. If those salaries were not paid, the humanitarian, economic, institutional, political, and security consequences could be severe.

It was in that context that he welcomed the decision announced yesterday by the European Union to provide $143 million of emergency assistance to the Palestinian Authority.

“We should be alert to the danger that cutting off assistance prior to the formation of a new government might be interpreted by the Palestinians and the Arab world as a punishment for the way the Palestinians voted in January,” Mr. de Soto said.

Meanwhile, he said that in the reporting period at least 32 Palestinians and one Israeli were killed by violence, while at least 130 Palestinians and 25 Israelis were injured.

Violence instigated by Palestinians included almost daily rocket fire against Israeli targets, an attack on a military post, stabbings of Israeli civilians, the kidnapping of an Egyptian diplomat and other foreigners, and violent protests related to the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. The Israeli government had also reported having foiled several suicide bombings.

At the same time Israel conducted a series of targeted killings of alleged militants and security operations in Nablus and Gaza that had resulted in a number of Palestinian deaths.

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